How to Recognize When You’re Being Passive-Aggressive

2 woman at oddsWho among us can honestly say they’ve never behaved in a passive-aggressive way?

When I’m not being assertive, passive-aggression is my go-to. I figure it’s better than outright aggression, and I don’t seem to be wired for passivity, so sometimes it feels like the best option.

There are hundreds — maybe thousands — of subtle ways to avoid being assertive.

This week’s article, in which I happen to be quoted, is a survey of just a few of the twisted moves we make to get around saying what we mean.

Most of these sound pretty intentional to me, and fall more on the aggressive side.

But as I say in the article, I don’t think passive-aggressive behavior is used as a weapon on purpose. At least, not usually.

I doubt most of us even recognize what we’re doing when we make a passive-aggressive maneuver.

In those not-so-proud moments, we’re setting aside our right as adults to simply state our wants, needs, preferences and opinions clearly.

Why is being passive-aggressive so much easier than asserting ourselves?

Check out the article at this link and let me know what you think:

Don’t fool yourself: Seven signs that you’re being passive-aggressive – The Washington Post

Can Reconnection Cure Boredom?

bored young womanI’m not often bored these days, but I certainly have been bored before.

I don’t like it. Not one bit.

I’m curious about boredom. I want to know what causes it and why some people seem to experience boredom constantly, while others rarely or never do.

Boredom feels bad, but it seems different from other feelings. What exactly is boredom, anyway?

I was puzzling over this when this article on 5 types of boredom came to my attention. The article describes and labels boredom, but doesn’t explain it.

Why do we sometimes feel bored?

It’s easy to list the kinds of things that trigger anger, sadness or fear.

For example, when someone mistreats an animal, I get angry.

When someone I care about moves away or dies, it makes me sad.

Horror movies, riots, Simon Cowell … these trigger fear in me.

But what triggers boredom?

Boredom as Self-Alienation

When I think back to times in my life when I’ve felt an unpleasant, negative sense of boredom, they all have one thing in common.

In boredom, I feel alienated from myself.

Nothing sounds good to me because it’s like there’s no “me” there.

Reading a book, calling a friend, taking a walk, going to the gym… nothing sounds like something that would break me out of this awful sense of therebutnotthere-ness.

What if boredom is just self-alienation?

If it is, then the cure for boredom is to reconnect with oneself.

The following exercise from my book, Constructive Wallowing, helps you focus on your heart and may help pull you out of boredom.

The next time one of us is bored, let’s agree to try this and see if it helps, okay?

How to Connect With Your Heart

(I’ve adapted this from the book version for when you’re feeling bored.)

When you have some time and privacy, get comfortable and place a hand over your heart.

Breathe normally for a minute, then…

Imagine that each breath you take is nourishing your heart.

As you in inhale, each breath feeds, soothes, and nurtures your aching heart.

Imagine your heart being grateful for your breath…

If simply breathing into your heart doesn’t bring you back to yourself, you might want to ask your heart a question.

You might ask your heart, “What do you need?,” “How can I be closer to you?,” or “What do you want me to know?”

You’ll know your heart is speaking to you if you start to feel emotional.

Emotions may be to boredom what light is to darkness.

Feeling something, anything, may banish boredom just as flicking on a light makes the darkness disappear.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes. Or I will, if I’m ever bored again.

(As long as I have you to talk to, I don’t see it happening.)

Do you have a favorite tip for breaking out of boredom? Please share it by leaving a comment below.

Photo courtesy of

Why We Need to Embrace Self-Pity

I love self-pity.

It’s so necessary, because nobody knows how bad things can get for us sometimes like we do.

The only problem I can see with self-pity is that we don’t do it enough!

“But what about all those self-pitying types who go on and on about what a bum deal they’ve gotten?,” you might ask. “Don’t they have enough self-pity for all of us?”

I’m glad you asked me that.

Those so-called self-pitying types are only playing at self-pity. They talk a good game, but on the inside they’re their own harshest critics.

They continually abandon themselves, refusing to engage in genuine self-compassion while they chase after someone else’s sympathy.

It’s kind of complicated, I guess.

Paradoxical, even.

Check out this week’s post at this link:

The Self-Pity Paradox | Psychology Today

One more thought…

True self-pity is not about “playing the victim.” It’s about the cold, hard fact that sometimes you ARE the victim.

The truth can set you free.

Just my opinion. What do you think?

Photo courtesy of

7 Ways to Spring Clean Your Relationships

Now that spring is here, I thought I’d offer a few tips for some “relationship spring cleaning.”

Try these with your partner, friends, family, or even coworkers.

1. Listen more. Even if the other person already does most of the talking, how carefully do you typically listen? Challenge yourself to tune in to what they’re saying, rather than letting your mind wander.

2. Make time. The word “relationship” may be a noun, but “relate” is a verb. It’s something you do, not something you have. Relating takes time and attention, but these pay huge dividends.

3. Be the change you want to see in the relationship. Anything you want more of — understanding, respect, patience — give it to the other person. Relationships change when one person does something differently.

4. Replace old habits with new ones. It’s hard to remember to not-do something, so instead, pick a new habit and start doing that. Instead of criticizing, validate. Instead of over-helping, pay attention to your breath.

5. Have the talk you’ve been needing to have. Use “I” statements and take responsibility for your part. Be clear on where you want things to go from here.

6. Feed the relationships you want to grow. All of the above steps do that. Also tell the people you like or love how you feel about them. Don’t assume they know.

7. Starve the relationships you no longer want. Be kind to people who have accidentally been allowed to wander into your life, but don’t give them your energy. You don’t have to kick a stray cat if you want it to go away. All you have to do is not feed it.

Do you have a relationship tip to share? Please leave a comment below.

Parent-Child Estrangement Is Sometimes (But Not Always) About Abuse

Girl, upset, with mother in backgroundI received the following feedback last week about an excerpt from my Guide for Parents of Estranged Adult Children, and I wanted to respond.

Unfortunately, the feedback was anonymous.

Surely this person is not alone. So I thought I’d respond with a blog post…

S/he wrote:

I read through your entire page on Estrangement and I’ve got to say that it all felt a bit like you’re condoning the behaviour of abusive parents; telling them they need not feel any remorse for the suffering they’ve caused and they need to practice more self-compassion.

Parents who abused their children are typically in denial about the destruction they’ve caused and they are looking for any excuse to place blame for the estrangement and any upsetting emotions they may be dealing with on their adult children… Your website gives them plenty of fodder for sidestepping responsibility for their behaviour.

As a victim of childhood abuse and an adult child who bravely initiated estrangement, I found your “wisdom” offensive and horrifying.

Offended and horrified is the last response I ever want to evoke, both as a person and especially as a therapist.

I am sincerely and terribly sorry to hear that you were abused by your parents.

You were deprived of the basic right to be protected from harm and cherished by the adults closest to you. There are no words to express how wrong that was, and how much it shouldn’t have happened.

Your suggestion that I condone child abuse is as mistaken as it is understandable for someone in your shoes.

I support your right to detach yourself from anyone who abuses you.

I also grieve for you, that you didn’t get to experience parents who knew how to nurture and support you, and that you don’t have parents you can now enjoy as an adult.

Child abuse robs a person of so much good in life.

There’s a reason I didn’t call it “a guide for parents who abused their children.” The Guide doesn’t assume abuse on the parent’s part.

Of course, child abuse does happen and yes, it’s one of the reasons adult children decide to end their relationships with parents.

It’s not the only reason, though.

There are many ways in which kids can feel let down by their parents. Abuse is simply the most extreme.

What I hear from many of my estranged adult-child therapy clients is that there was no outright abuse.

I’m not saying this to deny that child abuse happens, or to defend abusive parents.

I just want you to know that there are other reasons for estrangement, and these can be harder to quantify.

Many estranged parents are genuinely confused when their kids stop talking to them. They think, “I was good to my kids. Where is this coming from?”

It was in an effort to clarify some of these more mysterious reasons for estrangement that I wrote the Guide.

But let’s say that an outright abusive parent did look for guidance on how to repair that relationship all these years later…

How might they respond to a guide that verbally brow-beat them for what they did?

How long would they keep reading?

Lastly, what kind of “guide” tells you what you did wrong, instead of what to do now?

Telling someone they’re horrible is not an effective way to make them behave better.

People learn compassion and empathy by receiving these from someone else. Only then do they have something to work with. They can pay it forward.

My Guide is an attempt to fill the “emotional buckets” of parents so that they themselves can both heal, and become vehicles of compassion and understanding to pass along to their adult children … who can then fill the buckets of their own children, and so on.

As long as it’s “us against them,” there can be no healing from this devastating problem.

Self-compassion is where it all starts. We’re ALL adult children of human parents.

Anonymous, there’s no requirement that you forgive your parents’ abuse of you. That may be a tall order, especially without a heartfelt apology.

I hope you’ve learned, somehow, somewhere, to have compassion for the child you once were, who is still healing from what happened. S/he needs you.

I wish you every good thing under the sun.

Parents, check out the Guide for Parents of Estranged Adult Children

Why Dogs (and SOME Cats) Make the Best Therapists

Girl with puppyWhen it comes right down to it, no matter how much you might love all animals, you’re either a dog person or a cat person.

(Of course, if you didn’t grow up with pets, it may be a mystery to you why anyone would want to share their home with animals of any kind. Isn’t it bad enough that spiders get in sometimes? Why bring in critters on purpose?)

Today I’m outing myself as a … drum roll, please … dog person.

No, I don’t hate cats. In fact I always stop and pet them when I’m out for a walk in the neighborhood.

And I once had the best cat EVER.

But you know what made him the best cat EVER? He was like a dog.

Sealy was Mike’s cat, but when we moved in together, it quickly became “Mike and Me, and Sealy Makes Three.” We were a happy family for many years.

Sealy was a calm, affectionate, cuddly ball of awesome. I could pick him up and hold him upside-down, cut his toenails any old time, rub his tummy and sleep with him tucked in the crook of my arm all night.

When we moved, he didn’t spend a single minute hiding under the furniture in our new home. He was checking everything out, confident and calm as can be. That was Sealy.

And loving? Don’t get me started.


It’s been many years since he passed and we still miss him. Probably always will.

That cat was definitely a dog in a previous life. He had all the canine qualities I describe in this week’s post:

10 Reasons Dogs Make the Best Therapists | Psychology Today

What about you? Dog person? Cat person? Or none of the above?

My mom likes pigs. Nobody knows why.

What’s your favorite therapy animal?

Photo courtesy of

Grow Your Child’s (or Your Own) Emotional Intelligence

baby with glasses, looking cleverEveryone pretty much agrees on the importance of emotional literacy, at least in theory.

As a society, we want children to learn how to deal with difficult feelings, both their own and others’.

But how exactly do we teach them that? Especially if we ourselves aren’t sure we’ve got a handle on our own emotions?

Emotional intelligence can easily be developed in children because most kids are naturally emotionally intelligent. At least, they’ve got the basics down; kids know an emotion when they feel one, and they’re not ashamed of their own humanity.

But giving kids what they need to become emotionally adept requires adults to dig deep.

If we can’t handle being angry with someone we love, how on earth can we provide guidance to a child who’s having that all-too-common experience?

If we habitually suppress feelings of frustration or regret, how can we teach kids how to work through those emotions?

As you read this week’s post by Kathy Hardie-Williams, whether you’re a parent of young children or not, think about what it might take to implement the steps she recommends in your own life.

Might you want to re-parent yourself using her advice?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: What’s good for kids is good for all of us.

Click the following link to read the article.

Why Your Child’s Emotional Intelligence Should Be a Priority